Kenyans face a deadly time bomb of lead poisoning

Yellow paint has the highest levels of lead. PHOTO/FILE
Yellow paint has the highest levels of lead. PHOTO/FILE
Despite aggressive campaigns to rid Kenya off hazardous paints, nearly three quarters of decorates available locally contain dangerously high amounts of lead, an environmental watchdog has warned.

The Centre for Environment Justice and Development (CEJAD) says in a new report that 71 per cent or 15 out of 21 paint brands sold in the country have lead concentrations of above 10,000 parts per million (ppm) – way above 90ppm, the strictest legal limit in the world.

According to Griffins Ochieng, the executive director of CEJAD, tests conducted in a top US laboratory that participates in the Environmental Lead Proficiency Analytical Testing program found that yellow paint in the Kenyan market had the highest levels of lead.

“The highest lead concentration of 160,000ppm was detected in a yellow paint produced by Molar Enamel Paint for home use, and advertised as “lead-free”. These are levels as high as 16 per cent of the paint, and almost 18,000 times the allowed limit of 90ppm,” Mr Ochieng said.


Thirteen — or 76 per cent — of the 17 yellow paints in the market were found to contain lead levels above 10,000ppm.

On the other hand, 4 — or 29 per cent of the 14 red paints sold locally contained lead levels above 10,000 ppm.

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At least 35 out of 51 analysed solvent-based paints for home use were lead paints that contained a total lead concentration above the global legal limit of 90ppm.

Lead is generally added to paints for pigmentation, speedy drying and as a chemical agent to avoid corrosion.

Lead poisoning leads to a substantial drop in IQ, development delays, and neurological changes. Although it does not always produce symptoms, those affected may experience body aches, irritability, nausea, abdominal pains, fatigue, and sleeplessness.

Children below six years are considered to be at the greatest risk because their bodies absorb up to five times more than that ingested by adults, according to the World Health Organisation which lists lead exposure as one of the top ten environmental health threats.